SNEC: Intense competition evident in Chinese market

The world’s largest photovoltaic trade show opened today Shanghai, with Chinese photovoltaic manufacturers and domestic and overseas suppliers coming together for the first of three days of meetings and talks. Numbers appear down on 2012, however presentations at some booths have been attracting good crowds and interested attendees.

Equipment suppliers have reported that some booths appear downsized, but they report that SNEC remains the most important trade show globally. German equipment supplier Manz told pv magazine that the SNEC trade show will in fact be the only one they will have a booth at in 2013.

Show sponsorship is also much reduced compared to previous years, with the empty spaces around the trade show entrance and along halls a striking feature.

Understandably there has been a great deal of talk regarding EU tariffs, which look set to be applied to Chinese photovoltaic modules. ISRA Vision CEO Enis Ersü said that he still has hope that the EU member states will reject the tariffs proposed by the European Commission, as it would severely affect the business of the European equipment suppliers.

Ersü added that he expects the Chinese government to take retaliatory action against European photovoltaic suppliers active in China. ISRA Vision, one of the leading providers of optical measurement and inspection systems, completed its acquisition of GPsolar from Centrotherm in May.

ISRA Vision reports that while business is relatively slow at present, the company still intends to expand its manufacturing facilities in China in the coming months. It will establish an assembly line for its optical expand equipment to be closer to potential Chinese clients. Eric Rüland, the Managing Director of the former GPsolar, said that Chinese tier one module manufacturers, such as Trina and Yingli, have been reluctant to apply in-line inspection systems, but he added that the trend towards the use of the technology is increasing as cell efficiencies begin to require the most modern inspection equipment be applied. Rüland said that this applies not only to the production of N-type or Pluto cells, but also to P-type cell production.

Hanwha SolarOne reported that it is continuing to expand its downstream capacity in China, as the module price competition remains fierce. Having acquired the insolvent Q.Cells earlier this year, Hanwha could be set for a rebranding in 2014.

Meanwhile, First Solar had a large booth at the SNEC, the first time the U.S. company has chosen to participate in the Shanghai show. Bruce Yung, Managing Director and Vice President of First Solar in China told pv magazine that having established its first pilot photovoltaic power plant in the country, that interest in its thin film technology is increasing. He said that First Solar’s priorities align with those of the Chinese government and that therefore the firm is situated well to succeed in the market. However, Yung added that First Solar has no interest in joining a race to the bottom in terms of price competition with smaller Chinese c-Si manufacturers.

Some tier two and three Chinese manufacturers chose to stay away from SNEC this year, reporting that instead they will focus their activities in emerging southeast markets such as Indonesia and Thailand. Changzhou Sunrise Solartech is one such firm, with a company representative saying that the Chinese market is becoming increasingly difficult due to intense price competition. The Sunrise representative added that the will open a 250 MW manufacturing facility in Malaysia to avoid the effects of EU trade barriers. The fab will amount to half of Sunrise’s manufacturing capacity, on top of its existing 250 MW Chinese fab.

Finally, one indication of the difficult times facing smaller Chinese photovoltaic producers is that some salespeople were asking foreign visitors whether they were interested in personally purchasing solar modules.